Over the past decade, soy has been hailed as a wonder health food. Newspapers and magazines have gone on about the benefits of soy. On multiple ocassions, when we talk to people in India wanting to start a fitness program, they’ll say to me .. “I know, I should eat soy to lose weight”. This statement amazes us!
How did soy based foods become the bane of new age health foods in India?
First of all, soy does not make you lose weight. Soy is a source of plant based protein. Nutritionists recommend it to vegetarians to increase their protein intake. An average Indian diet contains relatively low amounts of protein. So, adding some soy based protein helps to increase the protein intake. It is normally recommended to decrease some carbohydrate and fat intake and replace it with this soy based protein. The idea is that protein takes longer to digest in your system than carbs, so it keeps you feeling full for longer. Also, protein is a basic building block for muscles, so its helps muscle growth.
But to get this benefit of protein, you don’t have to eat soy. You can get protein from meat, dairy, lentils, eggs or even protein supplements.
The other point of caution is that soy contains plant hormones called Phytoestrogens. These plant hormones have shown links to health risks in both men and women. In men, it has been linked to a decrease in male fertility. Also, it promotes the production of estrogen in the body, which is a female hormone. Effects of increasing the female hormone in men results in an increase in physical feminine traits such as man-breasts, etc. A study also linked soy with lowering testosterone levels in men. Hearsay is that tofu has been given in Buddhist monasteries to reduce libido.
As we know that it promotes estrogen production (female hormone) in the body, it is not recommended for women to increase soy consumption, since increased levels of estrogen in the female body has been linked with breast cancer.
Its important to note that soy is consumed in fermented (miso, tempeh) and non fermented (tofu, soy milk, soy oil) state. The non fermented state is high in phytoestrogens. Non fermented soy products are a modern invention and consumed in large amounts.
As is obvious, that the jury is still out on the real health benefits and risks of soy. The conclusion on all of this is that if you like soy, enjoy it in moderation.